Cinematography Studies Degree Program Information

Learn about associate, bachelor's and master's degree programs in film. Find out about courses included in these degree programs, as well as career options in cinematography.

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Essential Information

Cinematographers can learn their craft through on-the-job training or through academic programs. In associate, bachelor's and master's degree programs in film and film production, students take theoretical and applied training courses. Associate degree programs provide training in practical skills, such as sound and lighting design, while bachelor's programs prepare students for work as assistant film directors or entry-level photography directors. Graduates of master's degree programs in cinematography may become film and video directors. Regardless of level, nearly all film production programs culminate in an independent filmmaking project.


Associate of Science in Film Production

Associate of Science in Film Production programs at community colleges teach students how to work with film and video cameras. Associate degree programs in filmmaking very rarely offer specialization tracks. However, training is provided in editing, directing, writing and cinematography. Students with an interest in becoming directors of photography learn how to load film into a camera and frame a shot that meets a student director's specifications and enhances the emotion of a scene. A film project is usually required for completion of the degree.

Educational Prerequisites

Applicants must hold either a high school diploma or GED. Community colleges have general education requirements that must be met by prospective students. In some cases scores for the ACT or SAT exam may be required.

Program Coursework

Associate degree programs typically focus on practical filmmaking techniques. Some classes may include:

  • Sound design
  • Film and video editing
  • Basic film and video camera operation
  • Lighting
  • Set construction
  • Acting
  • Screenwriting
  • Film history

Popular Career Options

Career options for graduates of an associate degree program in film production are limited. However, there are many production jobs that require very little formal training.

  • Grip
  • Gaffer
  • Focus puller
  • Camera operator
  • Assistant director

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film

This undergraduate fine arts degree allows students to learn all aspects of filmmaking. Many BFA programs have concentrations in directing, editing, screenwriting, acting and cinematography. Cinematography combines technical acumen with the artistic process. Students learn how to use the film or video camera much in the same way a writer uses a pen. Emphasis is placed on lighting techniques that enhance the emotion and mood of a series of shots. Short films allow students to gain practical filmmaking experience; the final year is typically devoted to working with a directing student to create a thesis film.

Educational Prerequisites

Applicants must submit scores for either the ACT or SAT exam and include a short film or some other piece of artistic work with their application. Admissions committees want to see how creative a prospective student is and how well he or she can communicate ideas and emotions through a chosen medium. The artistic submission is considered to be the most important component of a film school application.

Program Coursework

Courses in film history, film genres and film theory are required in addition to classes that focus on the technical aspects of filmmaking.

  • Film history
  • Film noir
  • Directing
  • Film and video editing
  • Lighting methods for film
  • Cinematography
  • Documentary film
  • Film grammar

Popular Career Options

Graduates of a BFA program in filmmaking must be prepared to work in lower-level production jobs and work their way up into positions of more responsibility and artistic endeavor.

  • Grip
  • Gaffer
  • Assistant director
  • Camera operator
  • Focus puller
  • Director of photography

Master of Fine Arts in Film

A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree program in film is considered the terminal arts degree for students interested in pursuing some facet of filmmaking. The cinematography major is chosen during the second year of enrollment. The first year is devoted to all aspects of filmmaking, including camera operation, editing, writing and directing. During this first year, cinematography students will have the opportunity to write, shoot and direct film projects. The purpose of these short films is to learn about the different facets of filmmaking.

In the second and final years of enrollment, cinematography students will receive training in film and digital camera operation, film lighting techniques and digital cinematography. A cinematography student will learn how technical filmmaking tools, such as the camera and lighting equipment, can impact the quality, tone and emotional impact of a moving image.

Educational Prerequisites

Applicants must have an undergraduate degree in order to be considered for admission into an MFA in Film program. The undergraduate degree does not have to be in film production or film theory. Applicants must also submit letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose. A writing sample may also be required. The primary component of the application package is the portfolio. Many MFA programs request that prospective students submit a short film. The film will need to demonstrate an understanding of filmmaking and the creative process.

Program Coursework

Classes cover all of the technical aspects of cinematography but also include topics such as film theory and film history. The goal of the MFA in Film curriculum is to produce graduates who are well rounded.

  • Lighting for motion pictures
  • Television lighting techniques
  • Digital cinematography
  • Directing and cinematography
  • Post-production techniques
  • Film criticism
  • Makeup for film and television

Job Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS, www.bls.gov) the projected employment of film and video editors and camera operators is expected to increase by about two percent from 2010-2020. The BLS stated that the rapid expansion of new forms of entertainment, such as Internet broadcasts and digital movies, will increase the need for camera operators. As of May 2012, the annual median salary of a camera operator was $40,300.

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Popular Schools

  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Must be a high school graduate or have completed GED
    School locations:
    • Online Learning
    • Florida (1 campus)

    What is your highest level of education?

  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Must be a high school graduate or have completed GED
    School locations:
    • Online Learning

    What is your highest level of education?

  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Must be a high school graduate or have completed GED
    School locations:
    • Online Learning

    What is your highest level of education?

  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Must live within close proximity to school locations
    • Must be graduated from high school by 2011
    School locations:
    • Florida (1 campus)

    Classroom-Based Programs

    • Bachelor
        • Bachelor of Fine Arts - Audio Production
    • Associate
        • Associate - Audio Production
        • Associate - Post Production

    What is your highest level of education?

Other Schools:

  • School locations:
    • California (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Stanford University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Cinematography and Film Production
        • Film and Cinema Studies
  • School locations:
    • Massachusetts (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Boston University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Cinematography and Film Production
  • School locations:
    • Florida (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Miami include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Cinematography and Film Production
        • Film and Cinema Studies
        • Photography
  • School locations:
    • New York (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Syracuse University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Cinematography and Film Production
        • Photography
  • School locations:
    • New York (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at New York University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Cinematography and Film Production
        • Photography
  • School locations:
    • Iowa (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Iowa include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Cinematography and Film Production
        • Film and Cinema Studies

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